What are panini?
Panini (pronounced “pah-NIE-nie”) literally means “small sandwiches” and that is what they are: Italian sandwiches. They are eaten in all kinds of combinations as the types of bread can vary and the fillings can be anything. They are sometimes grilled in a special panini grill, but not always.
In Italy itself, it is the region that determines which bread is available and what is put into it. In Tuscany, for example, on a semolina roll, people prefer sbriciolona, a salami sausage with fennel seeds, and Pecorino cheese. In Rome, they like to use rosetta rolls and in Naples specifically, the paninis are filled with scamorza, a smoked mozzarella.
Paninis have been sold in Italy since the 1960s from sandwich shops (panintecas) and the concept quickly spread throughout the world. The Americans have been charmed by the panini since the 1970s and the dish has also been found in sandwich shops for decades in many parts of Europe.
Paninis are nearly always grilled. The toppings often look Italian – mozzarella, pesto and salami are popular – but not always: many sandwich shops have diversified, offering popular local variants such as paninis filled with bacon and avocado, chicken tikka and tuna mayonnaise.
Did you know...
The word ‘panini’ is actually plural in Italian, so you should really refer to one panino and two panini rather than ‘paninis’. It probably won’t catch on though.
How to make panini
Preparing panini is super easy. You split a sandwich of your choice in half, stuff it with the chosen filling, close it and grill it in the panini grill until the filling is warm. With such a simple method of preparation, it’s important to use the tastiest ingredients, because there is nowhere for inferior fillings to hide!
How to eat panini
In true Italian style, the bottom half of a panini should be wrapped in grease-free, white paper so that nothing drips out when you bite into it.
In Italy, you buy a small, affordable glass of house wine with your panini and stand on the sidewalk in front of the sandwich shop to eat. Lunch at its simplest and best.